By Kristy Dorsey

Life sciences firms TC BioPharm has been given the go-ahead to test an experimental T-cell injection therapy on Covid-19 patients at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

The treatment is based on TCB’s research into the use of gamma-delta T cells (GDTs) to treat cancer. GDTs are the body’s first line of defence in viral infection, and are pre-programmed to target a wide variety of diseases.

Having already demonstrated the safety of GDTs in late-stage cancer patients, TCB hopes that its immunotherapy treatment can be used to kill cells infected with Covid-19.

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Patients at the infirmary confirmed to have contracted the virus will receive GDTs cultivated from healthy volunteers to help fight off the infection and head off a possible move into intensive care. Research has highlighted that patients at greatest risk from Covid-19 are deficient in GDT cells, leaving the immune system less capable of combating the virus.

Based at Eurocentral in North Lanarkshire, TCB was the first company to treat cancer patients using donated GDT cells in a clinical study. It employs more than 80 people to cultivate large banks of these “killer” cells from those donated by healthy volunteers.

“Having initially built TCB’s cell therapy platform for treatment of cancer patients, it’s a unique and exciting opportunity for the company to treat individuals stricken by this terrible pandemic,” chief executive Mike Leek said.

“Our focus has always been to treat patients and we are encouraged by the response of renowned clinicians, leading scientists and our investor base.”

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The trial will be overseen by Dr Nik Hirani, chief investigator at the University of Edinburgh and Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. Approval was granted following discussions with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), part of the Department of Health and Social Care.

Co-founded in 2014 by Dr Leek and chief operating officer Angela Scott, TCB is privately owned. It opened its first international office in Japan in 2018, followed by offices in London and the Netherlands in May of last year.

Its backers include Scottish Enterprise and the Investing Women network, which provided £1.2 million in 2015, followed by a £6.25m fundraising in 2017 led by Japan’s NIPRO Corporation and the Scottish Investment Bank.